What is included in your cruise fare depends on what type of cruise you are considering. How to know how much your cruise will really cost.

Back in the days when every component of a typical family vacation; transportation (airfare or car fuel), hotels, meals and entertainment were all priced and paid for separately, cruising was considered an all-inclusive vacation.

But a new category of resorts has redefined the term all-inclusive in the travel industry. Known in the trade as AI an all-inclusive resort, such as Sandals, means a vacation destination where alcohol and gratuities are also included. Similarly, there are still true all inclusive cruise lines; Silversea, Regent and Seabourn among others.

But, it is time to re-visit the topic of hidden costs of cruising in the contemporary cruise industry because things have changed a great deal in the last few years. It isn't that you get less included with your cruise these days -- you still get everything on today's cruise that was included ten years ago. The difference is that there are now so many more options available on every cruise, and some of them carry an additional cost.

There are two components to examining hidden costs. Part one explains what is included in the quoted price. Part two is what is included at no extra charge onboard the cruise ship and, more importantly, what new options are available to cruisers onboard ships which carry an additional surcharge.

What's Included in Cruise Pricing?
Getting right to the point, the single most significant change in cruise pricing in the last two years is the new fuel surcharge. Every major cruise line now charges passengers an additional fee, due with your final payment, to cover the extra cost of energy. More on that below.

The Basic Cruise Fare: All cruise fares are based upon double occupancy because the stateroom is built with two berths; made to accommodate two people. In other words, the cruise fare quoted in an ad or booking engine is for one passenger sharing a cabin with another adult paying the same fare. The assumption is that you will sail with your significant other, although sometimes people pre-arrange to sail with cruise mates.

The significant thing about double occupancy is that the cruise line expects to sell that stateroom to two people. If you are a single person sailing alone and want a cabin to yourself, you have to pay a single supplement fee.

Single Supplement Fees: Cruise lines describe the single cruise fare as 200% of the basic fare. In other words, a single sailing in a stateroom alone will pay the same as two people would pay for the same stateroom. It sounds expensive and it can be. The good news is that there are options for single cruisers where some lines do not charge this fee, or they reduce it to 125%, 150% or 175% of the cruise fare. While many lines used to do so, Holland America is the only major cruise line that will still attempt to match you up with a roommate if you request it. If they can't find a suitable roommate they will give you that entire cabin for the price of one berth.

Port Fees or NCFs: When shopping for a cruise, you will see prices quoted in advertisements, travel agency booking engines and cruise line web sites. These price quotes include the cruise fare and what is known as NCFs, industry jargon for non-commissionable fees. These fees used to be known as port fees because they included what each individual port charged the cruise line for the right to bring passengers into their country.

Back in the 1990s the cruise lines found it unwieldly to quantify port fee charges to their passengers. Actual fees charged to cruise lines by the ports they visit tend to change with each cruise depending on passenger load. To standardize cruise pricing in advertisements, and simplify accounting port fee charges to their customers, the industry collectively elected to average port fee costs across the board and not refer to them specifically as port fees any longer. Hence, the new term non-commissionable fees, or NCFs, was created.

NCFs should be included in the quoted cruise fare, not listed separately, so this is rarely a concern. But, if you have doubts about your travel agent this is something to double-check. A few less scrupulous agents will take these fees out of the quoted price but include it in small type at the bottom of the page, making their quotes appear substantially more competitive than almost everyone else. This is not illegal, but it is against standard practice agreed to in the 1990s.

Taxes: Fees listed as government taxes will be added to your quoted cruise fare, similar to sales tax. The good news is that they aren't much - usually limited to about 6% of the cruise fare. Cruise prices have been quoted this way for years now.

Fuel Surcharges: These are new hidden costs. These fees are currently not included in the quoted cruise fare but are added to the total fare along with the taxes. These fees came about in early 2007 and today all of the major cruise lines charge them. In most cases they are about $10 per person per day. They cap the fee at 14 days (or $140) per person. In most cases, if there is a third person in the same cabin they will charge $5 per day.

Deposits and Changing Fares: Most of the time, when you book a cruise you are asked to pay a deposit to hold the cruise. Usually, this deposit is about $250, although Princess often runs $100 deposit sales. Your final payment is due at some point before the sail date, usually 30 to 60 days out. Importantly, if the price of the cruise goes down before you make your final payment you may be able lower your cruise fare. Once you have made that final payment, however, it can be very hard to get a refund for the difference.

Can cruise prices change? Yes, prices for the specific cruises can change as often as every week. Cruise lines use the same practice the airlines use for finding the price where a ticket will sell. It is called yield management, and it includes adjusting the price of every cruise until each ship sells out. Does this mean there is an advantage to booking later? Sometimes, but usually no. Like the airlines, the best prices are usually found by booking very early and last minute prices can be through the roof. But it can work the opposite way with prices getting lower as the sail date approaches if the ship is not very full. Inmost cases however, most ships sell out and last minute cabin selectionis far less than ideal. In general, booking early is best because you get lower prices and the exact cabin selection you want.

What isn't included? A cruise fare for Carnival, Royal Caribbean, NCL, Holland America, Celebrity or Princess will not include onboard alcoholic beverages or gratuities. Some luxury cruise lines do include these in the cruise fare, but you will see that mentioned plainly in the brochure. Examples are Silversea Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, and Seabourn Cruises. Most European river cruise lines such as Viking River, Dielmann, Avalon Waterways and others include alcohol and shore excursions in the cruise fare, but not gratuities. For more information about this, see our section on Luxury Cruise Lines.

This has been a summary of the hidden costs in cruise fares. It varies by the style of cruise you are considering. A good travel agent can help you keep track of what is included when you are comparing one cruise to another. Part Two of this series examines the hidden costs of cruising onboard the cruise ship.

Onboard the Cruise Ship

Onboard the ship you get breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks whenever you want them with certain beverages included with each meal. You can even get room service delivered to your room for no additional charge, a service I have always thought justified the cost of a cruise in its own right. You also get free admission to all entertainment facilities, children's facilities, sports activities like rock climbing or miniature golf. When the ship docks you are free to walk off the ship and explore the destination on your own or book a tour with a local operator. Or you can purchase shore excursions from the cruise line with the confidence that they will get you back to the ship on time.

When you check in, you are given a magnetic strip key card which gives you entrance to your stateroom. It also becomes your onboard charge card that will get swiped anytime you want to charge something onboard -- a cocktail, for example. During check-in they will take an impression of a credit card to cover your onboard account expenses and charge this card the day you leave the ship. The night before you leave you will receive a copy of your onboard charges. Be sure to read it carefully. If you need to dispute any charge go to the passenger services desk immediately.

What kinds of charges can you expect to pay for at the end of the cruise? Briefly, you will pay for alcoholic beverages and soda pop, your gift shop purchases, any gambling you may do, small charges for special treats like gelato or espresso, service charges for the gourmet restaurants onboard and spa services like massage or haircuts. You will be strongly urged, and in some cases required, to pay gratuities, unless the cruise line specifically states they are not expected.

Gratuities: The policy on most contemporary cruise lines is that tipping is optional but expected. Most will automatically charge about $9.50 per person per day for gratuities to your onboard account. These fees are broken down as $3.50 for your room steward, $3.50 for your waiter, $1.50 for your busboy and $1.00 for your Maitre 'D.

The policy of charging tips to your onboard account came about in the early 2000s to replace the practice of leaving envelopes in your stateroom. You were expected to fill these envelopes with cash on the last night and hand them directly to your wait staff. This was an admittedly clumsy and inconvenient practice. Either you kept aside some $300 in cash for the entire cruise or you had to find dollars someplace during the cruise, which could be challenging when sailing in the Caribbean or Europe.

Adding gratuities to your onboard account makes the whole practice of tipping much less complicated -- unless you want to dispute the amount. If you are truly unhappy with the service of a specific individual on some cruise lines you can elect to go to the front desk and have the amount of your tips reduced.

On some cruise lines this is no longer an option -- they are service fees, not gratuities. If this is important to you, you should double-check the policy with the cruise line web site before you book. We don't generally advocate that people reduce gratuities, so we are not going to list cruise line policies here. The truth is that your graIf you are unhappy with a certain individual tell his manager and state it in your comment card, but don't reduce your tips unless you truly think the entire service experience was abyssmal.

Beverages: When it comes to what you drink, your cruise fare includes lemonade, some fruit juices, regular coffee and iced tea. If you order an alcoholic beverage you will pay anywhere from $4.25 to $7.50 plus a service fee of 15% to 18%. A soda might be $2.50.

Some cruise lines offer alcoholic drink setups for your stateroom where $60 gets you a bottle of spirits and six cans of your preferred mixer. Some cruise lines offer wine packages where one price gets you a different bottle of wine served with every evening meal. Some cruise lines allow you to bring two bottles of wine onboard, but if you want to drink it at the dinner table you will be charged a corkage fee from $10 to $25 depending on the cruise line. For more details see our article on cruise line alcohol policies.

The good news is that if you drink the wine in your cabin you will not be charged the corkage fee -- a good reason to spurge on that veranda cabin. Some people have suggested filling your wineglass in your cabin and carrying it to your dining room table. You won't be charged if you do this, but you are limited to the one glass since getting up with an empty glass and coming back with a full one in the middle of dinner will attract attention.

Poolside, you can save a little on beer by buying a bucket o' beer which is literally six bottles on ice in a pail. This will generally get you six bottles for the price of five.

If you love soda pop then children and adults can get unlimited soda passes for fees that vary by the length of your cruise. Adults generally pay $6.00 per day and children are charged $4.50 per day. This is good if you are not supervising your children 24-hours/day. Some kids have been known to spend hundreds of dollars just on Cokes.

Most cruise lines do allow you to bring a 12-pack of your favorite soda or water onboard. Not Beer! This varies by cruise line and once again that information is in our article on cruise line alcohol policies.

Onboard the Cruise Ship
Other Little Pleasures: Most new contemporary ships now offer a specialty coffee cafe where you can get a latte or mocha for a few dollars. While they also give away tasty pastries for no additional charge, they might charge a few dollars for a generous serving of gelato or a delicious candy apple. Princess Cruises charges $2.50 for six scoops of gelato, enough for two people. They charge $5 for an enormous and gooey caramel apple with nuts, chocolate chips, coconut and drizzled frosting.

Room Service: Room service is free, which is wonderful. You can pre-order your breakfast with piping hot coffee to be delivered at a set time the next morning. It has become more expected to give the attendant a small tip, usually a dollar bill, or Princess has you sign a slip where there is a space for a gratuity. Princess also charges a small fee for some room service items, such as $1.00 for a hot pizza.

Alternative Dining Venues: While all meals are offered at no additional cost on every cruise, almost every modern cruise ship offers special alternative dining restaurants with gourmet food and highly attentive service. On average, a specialty restaurant will charge about $20 per person, but the cost of these restaurants ranges from free on Oceania Cruises to up to $500 per person on Silversea. The $500 charge on Silversea has every course paired with a rare vintage wine, sherry, cognac or port.

Most people try these restaurants at least once on each cruise and they are more than worth it. On Princess a $30 surcharge will get you a fresh 1.5 pound live Maine lobster steamed to perfection. You can't beat it. The restaurants also charge a 15% service charge.

Spa Services: Most contemporary cruise ships also now offer onboard extras that are purely optional, but available for splurges if you care to pay for them. Professional spa services such as massage are available at prices that are generally higher than mall-spas, but less than name-brand land spas like Canyon Ranch or La Costa.

Spas usually cohabitate the fitness center. In the fitness center several aerobics classes are usually offered for no extra charge during the cruise. There may be certain yoga or pilates classes that carry a small fee of about $10.

Many ships now have what are called thermal suites for a small fee of $10 to $25/day, or you can save by paying a per-cruise price. These fees provide you with unlimited access to several steam rooms, each infused with a different aromatherapy, heated ceramic beds and wet or dry saunas. Some ships include a Thelassotherapy pool, which contains heated water and several high-speed water or air jets to help relax your aching muscles.

Adults Only Serenity Areas: A relatively new surcharge option on larger cruise ships is a deck area set aside just for adults featuring hot tubs and plush deck chairs. Waiters will bring you cool fruit and spritz your baking body with Evian water. These deck chairs may be queen-sized Balinese beds, which have thick cushions and plenty of cushy pillows. For an additional charge you can rent a private cabana within the area.

The cabanas will have a Balinese bed and offer complete privacy by closing the canvass tent flaps. These same cabanas, rented by the day, can also be found outside the serenity area by the regular pool. What's the advantage? Mainly, it secures you a prime location in the sun without having to fight the crowds or worry about strangers perusing your semi-nude body.

Shore Excursions: The tours you choose to take in port will usually be the most expensive parts of your final bill. Most of them cost between $50 to $250 per person. Are they worth it? When you think about how much you may have paid to get to your destination then it doesn't make sense to skimp at the last minute.

There are ways to economize, which we have covered in numerous articles. You can rent a car -- sharing the cost with another couple. You can catch a local bus or arrange with local tour providers before you leave on your cruise. The advantage of ship-offered excursions is that you know you will make it back to the ship on time.

Summing Up Hidden Costs

No charge on any cruise is mandatory. You can drink iced tea with every meal and walk around in every port. How much you choose to spend is entirely up to you. Still, this is your once-in-a-lifetime vacation and you may never see Russia or Alaska again, so it doesn't make sense to skimp too much at the last minute. In the end the amount you choose to spend during your cruise is up to you. Everyone's style is different. Enjoy!